Cotton Clouds Festival 2019
Saddleworth Cricket Club, Well-I-Hole Rd, Greenfield, Oldham OL5 9BN
Cotton Clouds is now 3 years old. Set deep in the countryside east of Oldham, 11 miles north east of Manchester yet historically part of the West Riding Of Yorkshire, surrounded by rolling hills and small rural towns Saddleworth Cricket club is where you’ll find this annual festival that aims to cater for all. The atrocious weather that’s been battering the country for much of the last couple of weeks doesn’t let up and I drive to Saddleworth through torrential rain and along roads that seem like minutes away from flooding. The campsite over the road (£8 per night for one person in a small tent – bargain) sees strong willed people erecting tents that must be as wet inside as they are out as well as cars kicking mud everywhere as they try and negotiate fields that, unless the rain stops, will soon be marshland. I choose to sleep in the car. Cotton Clouds is family friendly. It’s well organised, stewards are friendly, polite and helpful. Bar prices could be cheaper (£5/pint lager, £5.20/pint cider with a smaller outlet selling lager at £4.80) but this can be forgiven when it’s bar profits that help fund the festival next year. Food available is your standard festival fare – pizza, fish and chips, burgers, Mexican, sausages in various flavours, a speciality steak outlet and ice cream – all at prices you’d expect at such an event.
Musically Cotton Clouds clearly aims to please as wide an audience as possible. This year’s big attractions being Peter Hook & The Light, The Wailers, Ash, Reverend & The Makers but there’s other well-known names as well as a lot of support for more local talent.
With three stages running at the same time there’s always going to be something worth seeing.
The Spinning Room Stage kicks off on Friday with The Maitlands who deliver a perfect opening set of indie pop that blends powerful drums with guitars that are one minute jangly pop and the next slicing right through you. They draw a sizeable crowd and it’s not just because it’s dry in this stage tent – a significant proportion of the crowd clearly know The Maitlands and their music well.
At the same time Tim Burgess’s Tim Peaks Diner Stage has opened with Callow Youth and it’s packed out for their set of guitar driven pure indie rock. Sadly I only catch a couple of songs before Alabama 3 start proceedings on the main stage. The weather has calmed to a mere drizzle and moods are lightened as Alabama 3 play a perfect set of their best loved songs.‘R.E.H.A.B.’ and, of course, ‘Woke Up This Morning’ have the crowd dancing, singing and completely forgetting about the weather.
Back on the Tim Peaks Diner Stage Satyr Play are my surprise of the day. Possibly because I live up North they’ve passed me by but in Manchester they’ve developed quite a reputation as a formidable live act. With captivating singer Fred Farrell the image of 70’s guitar legend Mick Ronson and a crowd that’s behind them from the opening notes of ‘Don’t Go East’ Satyr Play were always going to be entertaining. And whilst the songs are catchy, melodic, glam, poppy rock it’s the stage presence and attitude of this band that will take them to bigger places. Farrell is on the barrier singing, talking, taking the crowd with him and they hang on to every word as he climbs the speaker stack to sing ‘Give Me Something’ from on high.
Ash recently released ’94 -‘04 celebrating 10 years of catchy punk pop singles released during said period. Tim Wheeler doesn’t seem to have aged (but he was a mere 19 when Ash released their first full length album ‘1977’ back in 1996), Mark Hamilton continues to lose himself in those powerful bass riffs with every move you could dream of. It’s a crowd pleasing set of their well known slashing punk rock guitar driven ‘hits’ mixed with album tracks such as ‘Buzzkill’.
It’s no surprise the Tim Peaks Diner Stage is absolutely rammed for She Drew The Gun. Catchy psyche pop with a powerful political message that covers everything from the appalling way the homeless are treated, inequality, the NHS and the ills of capitalism. The powerful, pulsating drive of ‘Resistor’ is the first of five or six songs played from latest album ‘Revolution Of Mind’ together with ‘Since You Were Not Mine’ and the wonderful ‘Poem’ from debut ‘Memories Of Another Future’. Singer songwriter Louisa Roach and band deliver a set that will be one of Cotton Clouds highlights.
Peter Hook & The Light seem unable to do any wrong when they play live nowadays. Starting with the post punk of Joy Division classics such as ‘Shadowplay’ and ‘Transmission’ before merging into New Order’s huge hits – ‘Regret’, ‘Blue Monday’, ‘True Faith’ and ‘Temptation’ Peter Hook struts across the stage, now sharing those unmistakable bass riffs with Yves Altana, as classics that never sound out of date take some of us back to our youth. Finishing with ‘Ceremony’ and the one song that every person here tonight knows, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, Peter Hook knows how to please a crowd with a set of songs that may be 30 – 40 years old but which few will ever tire of hearing.
Friday’s stroll around the festival site also turns up some impressive fire performers with hoola hoops in the pouring rain as well as a couple of Pterodactyls hovering just above peoples heads and occasionally investigating various drinks with their beaks.
Back at the campsite my car/bedroom is surrounded by mud but after a surprisingly comfortable nights sleep Saturday breaks with sunshine, warmth, rapidly drying ground, friendly neighbours and the promise of a great day. With 24 bands playing it was never going to be possible to watch them all. Opening the Spinning Room Stage The Flatline are proof positive that great guitar driven indie noise is alive, well and has a decent future. In fact by 3.00pm I’ve witnessed some of the best young ‘alternative’ rock n roll bands I’ve seen in years. All hammering out noisy, catchy riffs, driving guitars and pounding drums that make you want to jump around. All have a unique sound and gritty attitude that, if there’s any justice in this world, will see them play for many years to come and for much bigger audiences. Keep your eyes and ears open for Stereohaze, Dirty Laces, The Flatline, Hey Bulldog and especially the scuzzy, garage rock of La Mode who completely owned The Spinning Room Stage.
It’s hard to believe The C33s only released their ‘Introductory EP’ in July 2018. Despite there being just three in the band they completely dominate the main stage and their mid-afternoon 30 minute set of incendiary surf punk rock n roll leave few in doubt that they are one of the most exciting, energetic and talented bands around at the moment.
There was just time to catch the glittery disco beats of Patawawa whose synths, funky bass lines, energy and pure enthusiasm for having a good time provide the perfect soundtrack for a couple of thousand people to dance in the warmth of an early, sunny, summers evening.
Oh My God! It’s The Church go down a storm blending some hilarious anecdotes, madcap stage antics and real crowd pleasing tunes all in the form of an evangelical church service. It really is a riot of a show that has drawn the biggest crowd of the day so far.
But there are better things on offer and thankfully there’s enough people who view music seriously enough to realise this. LIINES are another of Manchester’s important, exciting, energetic and talented bands who, with ‘Stop-Start’, released one of the best albums of 2018. Having toured extensively this year with Sleaford Mods their infectious, raw, abrasive yet melodic in your face blend of stripped back post-punk tunes overlaid with Zoe McVeigh’s powerful vocals hooks you right in and, quite rightly, entices a sizeable crowd into the Tim Peaks Diner Stage tent from the sunshine outside.
Camden Cox, Kele Le Roc, Shelly Nelson and MC Neat are some of the guests on the main stage helping The House and Garage Orchestra belt out classics (allegedly) from the genre. Plenty love them but it’s certainly not for me. In fact I’ll admit to not recognising or liking a single song.
Luckily there’s an alternative in the form of Mark Radcliffe’s UNE . He of BBC 6Music and Radio 2 together with tech-head Paul Langley play poppy, synth based electronic tunes, including a rather good version of Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, to a tent full of people who appreciate something a little distant from the mainstream.
It’s 12 years since Reverend and The Makers released their top 10 hit ‘Heavyweight Champion Of The World’ and 10 since they toured huge stadiums with Oasis. Tonight they bring their blend of melodic rock, huge sounds and dance beats to a crowd that laps it all up. They’re certainly popular and the Cotton Clouds crowd, from the old(ish) to the very young, dances and sings along to every song played.
Tim Burgess himself headlines Tim Peaks Diner. With Average Sex as his backing band it’s a fantastic set mixing songs from his solo output together with favourites from The Charlatans including the massive ‘The Only One I Know’. The place is rammed, bouncing and singing. A real feel good vibe.
Closing the main stage The Wailers are the perfect choice for what has been a genuinely chilled out day. Reggae on a summer’s evening. Everyone knows the songs of Bob Marley, everyone loves to dance to them and everybody does. ‘Three Little Birds’, ‘I Shot The Sheriff’, ‘Jamming’, ‘No Woman No Cry’, ‘One Love’ and more. Peace, love and unity at a time when the country feels more divided than ever.
Musically Cotton Clouds caters for all. And if you’ve got little ones with you there’s plenty for them to do. Saturday sees a whole host of activities for kids. Headdress making, glittery face paint, drumming workshops, kiddies rave, circus skills. There’s creative dance with fire performers to watch from The Psyber Circus as well as the spectacular visual treat of the Saturday procession.
Cotton Clouds goes from strength to strength. Big name bands bring in the crowds but there’s real support for local artists providing a well deserved platform to what, for some, should be bigger times. It’s well organised, friendly and good value. Hopefully we’ll see you in 2020.
Huge apologies to the bands not mentioned.
Words + Pictures: Steve White